A year ago today American peregrina Denise Thiem was in Astorga, having a coffee with a fellow pilgrim. She was in no hurry, she wanted to see a church before she moved on to El Ganso where she planned to stop for the night. That was the last time she was seen by anyone who knew her.
On the way from Murias de Rechinvaldo to Santa Catalina de Somoza she left the Camino, either to see another village en route or because of false arrows deliberately put there by a man who wanted to lure pilgrims into his property to rob them. What happened when the two of them met, we will probably never know. Denise disappeared and wasn’t found until many months later, when her attacker – murderer? – was arrested by the police and charged with causing her death. Denise is now back in the US and the case is considered solved.
While she was missing, the pilgrim community tried to calm the fears of solo pilgrims and provide support for her familiy as well as the police. After she was found, we came together to grieve for a peregrina we never knew, and some of us carried shells to Santiago in her memory. These shells will be made into or a part of some form of memorial in time. For now, for a few months at least, Pilgrim House in Santiago will be providing a quiet space for those who want to come there to reflect on Denise’s unfinished Camino. They will also keep collecting the shells carried for Denise. I carried one last September and might do so again later this month.
On Sunday I found this photo on the forum – a memorial maple planted for Denise in Ecce Homo park in Valdeviejas just outside Astorga, by the chapel she would have walked past on her last day. I imagine that tree will be full of shells in time.
Rest in peace, peregrina, and buen camino.